A challenger for district attorney must make a compelling case that she or he will run the office more efficiently and without favoritism, and team with justice-system partners to keep residents safer.
Lisa Sondergaard Smittcamp has cleared the bar in her campaign to unseat Elizabeth Egan, Fresno County's three-term district attorney, and we are recommending Smittcamp to voters.
In public forums and in her appearance before the Editorial Board, Smittcamp has shown herself to be more knowledgeable about the day-to-day challenges prosecutors face, more connected to the realities of today's justice system, more open to solutions that will ease the county's chronic jail overcrowding and more interested in helping people get back on the straight and narrow.
Simply put, she is both smart and tough on crime. Egan, in contrast, embraces the overly simplistic tough-on-crime mantra that has proven financially impossible to sustain.
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It's not that Egan has been a terrible leader of the district attorney's office. But she largely has been invisible and she hasn't been innovative. As a result, her office has muddled along while absorbing budget cuts inflicted by a county board of supervisors that correctly assessed it wouldn't pay a political price for treating prosecutors and staff like a second cousin of the Sheriff's Office.
Smittcamp is articulate and forceful. Her physical presence alone commands respect. Although she says that the district attorney's office has sufficient funding to properly prosecute cases and see justice done, we expect that she will fight tooth and nail to bring more resources to the department.
Smittcamp, a former prosecutor, says that she decided to challenge Egan because of low morale among prosecutors, high turnover and concerns about the office's performance voiced by members of the legal community, including judges.
Egan counters that low pay is the culprit for the turnover and morale problems. Still, it is the district attorney's job to motivate and retain employees -- and effectively lobby those in charge of the purse strings to improve wages.
It is significant to us that Egan has lost the confidence of her investigators, who are backing Smittcamp in the election. This endorsement matters because the investigators know Egan and the workings of the office, and are privy to things that the public doesn't see.
Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer's endorsement of Smittcamp is significant, too. Dyer is taking a political risk by opposing the incumbent. That he would stand publicly against Egan signals his confidence in Smittcamp's ability to defeat Egan and be a better district attorney.
Smittcamp says that she will provide better training for young prosecutors and give seasoned prosecutors more leeway to settle cases. She also advocates increased funding for the Office of Public Defender so that trials aren't endlessly delayed. Speeding up this process will open more space in the jail for the people who belong there: sentenced convicts.
Early balloting begins Monday in the June 3 primary.
We recommend Smittcamp for Fresno County district attorney.